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Little Evidence Vitamins Prevent Cancer, Heart Disease

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May 5, 2021 -- For most vitamin and mineral supplements, there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against taking them to prevent cancer and heart disease, according to new draft recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

While the evidence is still unclear for most vitamin and mineral supplements, there is proof that two products do not reduce the risk of these diseases. The Task Force found no benefit of taking vitamin E, and actually found beta carotene may cause harm.

"The Task Force recommends against the use of vitamin E or beta carotene for the prevention of heart disease and cancer," said task force member John Wong, MD, vice chair for clinical affairs, and a primary care doctor at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

"The evidence shows there is no benefit to taking vitamin E and that beta carotene can be harmful because it increases the risk of lung cancer in people already at risk, such as those who smoke, and also increases the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke," he said in a statement.

The draft recommendation includes no changes from the previous guidelines issued in 2014.

The Task Force has a separate recommendation for women who are planning or able to become pregnant, and recommends the use of folic acid supplements.

Two Leading Causes of Death

Heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in the United States, and combined account for almost half of all deaths. Inflammation and what’s known as oxidative stress play a role in both diseases, and supplements may help prevent both, which is why the task force studied the use of dietary supplements as a means of preventing both heart disease and cancer.

"Because heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in the U.S., we want to look at whether taking vitamins and minerals help prevent these important diseases," task force member Chyke Doubeni, MPH, family doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, said in a statement. "However, there is not enough evidence to know if taking vitamin, mineral, and multivitamin supplements prevent these conditions, so the task force is calling for more research."

The draft recommendation statement and draft evidence review have both been posted for public comment on the Task Force website. Comments can be submitted here from May 4 through June 1, 2021.

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